Where is home really? Listening to a Bob Dylan song recently somehow made me think of another Bob Dylan song, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.” In it, the singer leaves a woman and heads back out on the road because things didn’t work out between them. That happened to me several times in my younger traveling days. I would meet someone, spend some time with them, perhaps we would even fall in love, but then I would feel compelled to leave, or she would have to go off and do whatever she had to do, and we would separate and be left with nothing but memories. I recount some of these instances in my memoir World Without Pain: The Story of a Search. During my travels I was relentless in my search for meaning, truth, metaphysical reality, and most of all my unique voice as a writer. Later, in lonely places and circumstances, I would look back and wonder if some of the relationships I left might have worked out. I deal with this in my short story “Katabasis” in the collection Heroes and Other Illusions.
Near the end of World Without Pain I write: “And home? I couldn’t go home again. Home was an abstraction from which one commenced a particular phase of the journey, not an absolute.” Of course I felt that way during my many years on the road. I still believe that in a sense. I felt isolated during the over fifteen years I lived and worked in Greece because I was a foreigner, a stranger in a strange land, and also I had no one with whom to share the wonderful experience of my budding writing career. On the other hand, as I look back, if there was any time I felt most at home as an adult, it was the period when we were raising our young family in Greece, first in Athens and then in various locations around Thessaloniki. But that’s the point. Home was not a physical place, because we moved often. Home was our family unit.
Children and adults have a different concept of what constitutes home. For children, ideally at least, it’s a place of safety and security where they can grow. For adults, well, I suppose I can’t really speak for all adults. I’m an anomaly in a sense. Most people I know life almost all their lives in one location and raise their families fairly close to where they grew up. I’ve lived in so many places for extended periods of time that I might not even be able to remember them all. Let’s see if I can recall at least a few of them: Seattle, Yakima, Los Angeles, San Diego, Assen, Rome, Naples, Palermo, Athens, Thessaloniki, Bombay, Madras, Calcutta, Katmandu, Bangkok, Jakarta, Auckland… Well, okay, I may have pegged at least the major ones where I’ve lived for a month or more at a time. If I list the places I’ve lived in for at least a few weeks there’ll be no end to it.
And what’s my own definition of home? It’s not a place at all. It has more to do with people. Sure, the place where I live now with some of my sons is home. But it’s temporary. We rent this apartment. It’s transient. It will pass. I don’t feel I have arrived here; I feel I am at another stage in the journey. Every day I take a walk through the neighborhood for exercise, and I wonder about the people whose houses I pass, and I wonder what it would be like to own a house. I’m not unfamiliar with the experience. We owned a house in Greece. It was during that wonderful stage when I felt that we really had a home. But it wasn’t the house that did it.
I realize I’m rambling, and I apologize. I came into this to put down some thoughts. I don’t know if I can come to any conclusions. I think about my time on the road and I marvel at what I did back then. I couldn’t do it now, at least not the same way. I’m not as strong, and I am much older. But those experiences shaped who I am, shaped my reactions to things, shaped my writing. Although there was a hint of melancholy as I recalled past adventures on my long walk today, there was also a sense of accomplishment, of fulfillment, and of satisfaction. I did what I had to do. I stayed on the road because I had a goal, and that goal was all-consuming and all-important. Come to think of it, I’m still on the road, and still in pursuit of my goal or goals. That’s what life is: a journey. Especially the life of a writer. There is no end point. There are always more stories to tell. There are always more worlds to explore.